Nominated by:

Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge, Belgium

Muntpunt, Brussels, Belgium

Tallinn Central Library, Estonia

Serres Central Public Library, Greece

Stockholm Public Library, Sweden

Laramie County Library System, Cheyenne, USA

The Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, USA

Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, USA

New Hampshire State Library, Concord, USA

Denver Public Library, USA

Houston Public Library, USA

Iowa City Public Library, USA

Milwaukee Public Library, USA

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, USA

Lincoln Library, Springfield, USA

Publisher of nominated edition:

Fleet, UK

Alfred A. Knopf, USA

Doubleday

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead    

Praised by Barack Obama and an Oprah Book Club Pick, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award 2016 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

About the author

Colson Whitehead is the New York Times bestselling author of The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City

Librarians’ comments

Colson Whitehead has written a brilliant novel about the history of the slaves in America. The Underground Railroad was a network of shelters and hiding places for the runaway slaves in order to get to the free North of America in the 19th century. It starts rather traditionally, with Cora escaping from the plantation, but soon the novel takes you on a fictional roller coaster along various places, characters and themes. In less capable hands this alternative book on slavery might become preachy, but not here. In making it a real underground railroad Colson Whitehead made a challenging novel that transcends the traditional boundaries of genre fiction. Is it an allegory, a thriller, or a historical novel? It certainly is an instant classic book.

The human horror in this book is undeniable. The devastation that we are capable of causing in another human being is shown without mercy. It is laid bare, naked and bleeding in front of our eyes. This is not an easy book to read – not because the sentence structure is complicated but because we will be put face-to-face with our own humanity as we turn the pages and contemplate what kind of worth human dignity has. We should all read this book.

This book rekindles the discussion and study of slavery in a pre-civil war America. The harsh realities of those dark chapters in American history are presented with bluntness but remain eloquent in their presentation.

A very interesting and well written book from the perspective of an African American slave.

Whitehead’s imaginative tale of a literal underground railroad of tunnels and steam engines bearing slaves to freedom is an exhilarating, gripping narrative, told through the eyes of young Cora as she makes her way to the unknown north.

The Underground Railroad is excellently plotted, perfectly characterised and thought-provoking. The book is a well paced and important re-imagining of American history that could not have come at a better time.

The Underground Railroad follows the gruelling and tumultuous life of Cora, a young slave in the antebellum South, and her unwavering quest for freedom. Whitehead’s literal imagery of a steam railway hidden underground, transporting slaves North, brings an unorthodox and captivation view of one of the most wretched times in US history.

Colson’s novel is hard hitting, literary fiction which addresses the issue of slavery through a lens of magic realism. Cora embodies resilience as she and her fellow escapee, Caesar, face brutality and adversity along their “underground railroad” journey. Unconventional, disturbing and stylistically complex The Underground Railroad creatively portrays the horrific history and legacy of slavery.

The book utilizes a historical fact, the Underground Railroad, as a means to explore various facets of racial prejudice and actual incidents that occurred in the history of the United States. It has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award for fiction.

Highly decorated nationally and the most popular 2016 fiction title among Iowa City Public Library cardholders.

With razor-sharp concern regarding narrative authenticity the metaphorical Underground Railroad has been rendered as an actual… underground railroad. Carefully constructed and splendidly bold: it is also dense and important.

The novel’s readability belies the sheer magnitude of its contents. Whitehead’s intention, in his words, was to stick to the truth of the black experience, but not necessarily the facts. It is this molding of reality that most acutely and profoundly conveys that aim.

Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award for this novel. It is a powerful and haunting narrative of antebellum America, but it moves the reader beyond that time and place. A compelling read and will surely spark discussions about slavery, freedom and American history.

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